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OPINION: As climate disasters pile up, urgent support needed for vulnerable nations on frontline

by Harjeet Singh | harjeet11 | ActionAid
Friday, 6 November 2020 15:48 GMT

A boy attempts to keep a candle lit in a flooded cemetery following Typhoon Molave, in Masantol, Pampanga, Philippines, October 27, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

U.N. climate talks have yet to result in funding for those grappling with rising 'loss and damage' from wild weather and rising seas

As super Typhoon Goni battered the Philippines last weekend, climate activist and former climate negotiator Yeb Saño compared its devastating power to that of Typhoon Haiyan, which hit his country seven years ago, tweeting: “The climate emergency persists and is wreaking havoc.”

The strongest storm of 2020, Typhoon Goni, killed more than 20 people as it tore through the country, destroying tens of thousands of homes and damaging infrastructure.

It comes as communities are battling the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and less than a week after Typhoon Molave, which killed 22 people in the Philippines.  

In Vietnam, Molave caused further death and destruction in a country already reeling from the worst tropical storm season on record and a month of unprecedented flooding and landslides.

ActionAid is working with partners to prepare an emergency response in both countries, focused on supporting communities hardest hit by climate disasters and COVID-19.

The Philippines and Vietnam are among the most prepared nations for tropical storm season, with effective early warning systems and life-saving evacuation plans. But even they are struggling to cope with the increasing intensity and frequency of climate disasters, and the devastating toll they take. It is estimated that Molave alone will cost Vietnam $430 million in economic losses.

Yet the global community continues to come up short when it comes to supporting the countries on the frontline of the climate crisis, particularly the rich nations most responsible for the emergency.

It has been nearly 30 years since Vanuatu, a member of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), raised demands at U.N. climate talks to compensate small island nations for the impacts of rising sea levels.

After Typhoon Haiyan wreaked havoc in the Philippines, Yeb Saño and others launched a hunger strike at that year’s U.N. climate conference, in protest at the lack of meaningful climate action and calling for support for countries already facing the severe impacts of climate change.

This, and strong advocacy over the years by developing countries and civil society groups, including ActionAid, contributed to the creation of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM) in 2013, tasked with supporting vulnerable countries, those already experiencing extreme and slow onset climate disasters.

But in the face of rising global temperatures, unprecedented wildfires, increasingly frequent and severe super storms, flooding, sea level rise and drought, the WIM continues to hold technical meetings that amount to paper-pushing exercises.


Rich countries have continued to bully the committee members representing developing nations, by blocking progress on financial support.

Meanwhile, climate survivors in the most vulnerable countries, those who have done the least to cause the climate crisis, are left to fend for themselves.

The WIM is tasked with enhancing knowledge about the scale and nature of climate impacts; strengthening dialogue and coordination; and enhancing action and support, crucially including finance for addressing the loss and damage caused by global heating.

At last year’s U.N. climate talks in Madrid, after seven years of dragging their feet, countries agreed to create an expert group on action and support. This group was finally created at a meeting of the WIM last month.

The expert group has the potential to create concrete financing solutions that would enable hard-hit communities to receive rights-based reparations. Estimates suggest that by 2030 the global annual cost of repairing the harmful effects of disasters associated with climate change – known as “loss and damage” - will reach at least $300 billion, increasing to about $1.2 trillion a year by 2060.

A 2019 briefing by ActionAid examined the current options for market, state and ‘innovative’ funding mechanisms available to cover the soaring costs of loss and damage, reviewing their effectiveness against key human rights principles.

 The analysis identified clear winners, including a levy on the fossil fuel industry to repair the costs of loss and damage and to fund programmes that help communities transition to greener economies. This puts the onus on those responsible for climate change to cover the cost of its impacts and could raise up to $1 trillion a year at a rate of $40 per tonne of CO2.

Shifting state subsidies away from fossil fuels and towards addressing the impacts of climate change and funding a transition to a low-carbon global economy could raise $300 billion a year, increasing to a potential $5.3 trillion when indirect subsidies are included.

As we mark the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement this year, rich countries must commit to urgently establishing a robust system to support the vulnerable communities and countries on the frontline of the climate crisis.